"Chamouni" [essay]
And this is our last excursion on Swiss ground, thought I, scanning
the provoking clouds that ever rolled massively among the regions of
eternal snow, though far above the blue mountains that encircle their
mighty monarch. 1 I have always a sort of kindred feeling for these
beautiful blue hills; they ever look half English, and I love them for it.
They may not be so wonderful, so majestic, so mighty, or so beautiful, but

they are more like home, sweet home, and it is pleasant, very pleasant, to
meet a friend in a foreign land. We are going to Chamouni, cʼest vrai,
but it seems exceeding strange. Before we left home, I had read of
Chamouni, heard of Chamouni, and seen some few drawings of Chamouni,
but never so much as dreamed of going to Chamouni, it seemed so un‐
come‐at‐able; and for the Mont Blanc, it seemed in another world, in fairy‐
land, and of course had a magic halo thrown round it, an ætherialness
that can never be joined with reality. That halo comes again on looking
back. And this is our last excursion on Swiss ground, thought I, the
last, and the wildest, and the sweetest, because—because, perhaps it is
the last. The day was exceedingly favourable for the scenery of the
lower mountains, not for the Alps; they were reserved for other times.
The noon verged gradually from burning sunshine a to thick thundery
clouds, that rolled rapidly over the murky heaven as we entered a solitary
mountain recess, a cliffy defile, leading from the valley of Maglan to that
of Salenches. 2 Down they burst with a fierce rattling turmoil and headlong
flash, flash, flashing, and the bridleless clouds careered along the crags at
such a wild rate that their own speed broke them into scattered confusion,
that the blue sky shone calmly through their openings, and the labouring
sun struggled strangely—now gleaming waterily on the red‐ribbed skeleton
crags, now mingling with the quiver of the lightning, now again plunged
into the swift rack of the thunder‐clouds that seemed sweeping round the
mountain summits like lashed ocean waves round a labouring vessel. The
Arve swelled on the instant, and his turbid waves tore madly down, trees,
stones, rocks, all tost along the channel, by the arrowy force of that
resistless river, ever mighty, but now fearful. As the sun verged towards
the horizon, the clouds swept partially away; the hills, the cliffs, the
mountains, the rocks, and the blue vaulted sky glowed with his last rays
for a moment; he sunk and the night came, his darkness made yet more
visible by the thunder gloom of the storm.
“Voilà les aiguilles,” quoth our char‐à‐banc driver. If any person in
the whole world is totally insensible to pain, knocks, aches, and bruises, it
must be a Swiss char‐à‐banc driver. The Swiss char‐à‐banc is a vehicle
expressly built for the purpose of passing over those roads, which no
other species of conveyance can pass over twelve yards of without immediate
demolition. It is a sort of large side‐saddle, capable of containing, if
well packed, three pauvres miserables, with a back and roof to it, and a
board to put the feet on, with a leather to keep you in, all which are of
a most ancient and venerable description; this is fixed totally without
springs or anything of the kind, as far as I could see, upon four wheels,
et voilà un char‐à‐banc. With this kind of vehicle, upon roads which
always resemble and are often carried through the beds of tumbling
mountain torrents, any one may easily imagine the sort of pleasurable
penance to which he is subjected who submits to be driven from Salenches
up to Chamouni in a char‐à‐banc.
“Voilà les aiguilles,” quoth our char‐à‐banc driver. 3 How I started,
I believe I was dreaming of home at the time; it is odd you always think

it would be very pleasant to be where you are not; it canʼt be helped, but
it is very provoking, the charms of a place always increase in geometrical
ratio as you get farther from it, and therefore ʼtis a rich pleasure to look
back on anything, though it has a dash of regret. It is singular that
almost all pleasure is past, or coming. Well, I looked up, and lo! seven
thousand feet above me soared the needles of Mont Blanc, splintered and
crashed and shivered, the marks of the tempest for three score centuries,
yet they are here, shooting up red, bare, scarcely even lichened, entirely
inaccessible, snowless, the very snow cannot cling to the down‐plunging
sheerness of these terrific flanks that rise pre‐eminently dizzying and
beetling above the sea of wreathed snow that rolled its long surging waves
over the summits of the lower and less precipitous mountains. Then came
the stretching gloominess of the pine forests, jagging darkly upon the
ridge of every crag, strangely contrasted with the cold blueness of the
peaky glaciers that filled the huge ravines between the hills, descending
like the bursting billows of a chafed ocean tide from the desolate dominion
of the snow, and curling forward till they lay on the green fields of
Chamouni, which stretched away, one unbroken line of luxuriance, till
bounded by the lonely desertness of the Col de Balme. 4 There is not
another scene like Chamouni throughout all Switzerland. In no other
spot that I have seen is the rich luxuriance of the cultivated valley, the
flashing splendour of the eternal snow, the impending magnificence of the
bare, spiry crag, and the strange, cold rigidity of the surgy glaciers so
dreadfully and beautifully combined, There is silence unbroken, no
thunder of the avalanche comes crashing from the recesses of the hills,
there is no voice from the chasmy glacier, no murmur from the thousand
mountain streams, you are in solitude, a strange unearthly solitude, but
you feel as if the air were full of spirits. 5